We had a chance to catch up with Eric Finan ahead of the USATF Marathon Championships to reflect on his journey to this epic race. A self-described “jack of all trades & master of none,” Eric certainly has some serious accomplishments to his name. Now that he picked up a full-time job as an engineer for a biomedical company and no longer “runs professionally,” he’s looking to run faster than ever.
Scott Olberding: You grew up in Ohio and ran for the University of Cincinnati. Toward the end of your college career, you were able to hit another level and pick up two All-America certificates. Was that a big factor in ultimately running professionally and moving to Minneapolis?
Eric Finan: Yes, definitely. After having success toward the end of my time in college, I thought that by the next Olympic cycle I would definitely be able to hit the Olympic Trials 5,000 meter time. I actually graduated a little banged up and took an engineering job in Cincinnati for about a year and then was fortunate enough to move to Minneapolis to join Team USA Minnesota.
SO: Yeah, I knew that you spent some time there — it’s actually my home state. It seemed like you focused your energy on a bunch of different events, from the mile (won Adrian Martinez Classic in 2014) to cross country to the half marathon. How did all of that play out and why did you end up moving to the marathon?
EF: I’ve always loved racing and have been open to most distances. The goal through 2016 was always to focus on the 5,000 meter distance. I had three goals coming out of college: 1) make an Olympic team, 2) make a World team, and 3) make a U.S. relay or XC team. Looking back, considering I never qualified for the track trials, these goals seem a little far-fetched, but I think that is the attitude you need. If you go in just saying I want to make the trials or make the final, why stop there?
(photo courtesy of Scott Olberding)
SO: I get that. Leading up to the 2016 Trails, it seemed like you were in good shape. How many races were you in that went under the standard?
EF: Hmmm, three races, I believe. And that was sort of the frustrating part. I was getting smoked by college kids in some of these races, like one race I ran 14:05 or something like that. Looking at my goal, it just seemed crazy and I was a bit frustrated. I had all day to train and focus on the right stuff and I was getting all of my work in. My coach, Ian Dobson, obviously has a great 5,000 meter background so hearing him say I could hit a way faster time created a bit of a disconnect for me.
SO: After not making the Trials, was there some big philosophical pivot to the longer distance?
EF: Not really. I took a lot of down time after trying to hit the standard and then while applying for jobs, I started running again simply to see some progress in my life. I had always wanted to run a marathon, so one night over a beer with Ian, I casually brought up racing the California International Marathon in 2016. I asked if it would be possible to run a decent time off of limited training. I remember him saying, “I mean, it’s not the worst idea.” He thought I wouldn’t be able to run my best time but that the eight weeks left before CIM was enough to get a give a good shot at it.
SO: You went CIM 2016 and ran 2:17:51. Were you happy with that performance? Where was your headspace going into that and coming out?
EF: Yeah, I was pretty happy with that, all things considered. My goal was to run under 2:18 so I accomplished that. It was also a great race and I enjoyed the experience so much that I knew I wanted to give another crack at it.
SO: It looks like over the summer you were able to get some awesome adventuring in, whether it was ski mountaineering, backpacking, trail running and driving your motorcycle across Oregon. Was that pre-meditated for the summer?
EF: Yeah. For the first time in a while, I didn’t have a full-time job and I wasn’t hyper-focused on track. It was a great experience and the activities I was getting in didn’t take as much away from my fitness as I had imagined a lot away from my training. I realize that I wasn’t training at an optimal level, but I was having a blast and getting in some decent marathon base. When I took my full-time job, I was feeling refreshed and excited to keep training for the marathon.
(photo courtesy of Jason Suarez)
SO: Your training for 2017 CIM has been going off without a hitch and seems like you are much more fit than the last go-round. I’ve personally been impressed and secretly following how early some of your big workouts are. What’s that like trying to get amped for a 20-miler at 5:30 am?
EF: Yeah, some mornings it feels really early but I’m constantly reminded by a lot of amazing people around me who are getting up just as early or earlier to get after what they have going on in their lives. There’s actually this group that meets twice a week in the mornings on the track. It’s a group of attorneys and teachers and other folks and their workout starts at 5:00 am on the dot. So while I’m having coffee and getting a little food in, they are cranking out 400 meter repeats.
SO: Alright, so you’ve been working full-time, cranking out 130 mile weeks, and still finding time for some adventure. You seem pretty psyched about running and training and soaking up life. Do you have a specific time goal going into the U.S. Marathon Championships in Sacramento, or is the plan to get out front and compete? Or perhaps a little of both?
EF: Definitely a little of both. I’m going into this race with a fresh approach. I don’t want to have the mindset of like, “I’ve run a marathon before and I know what to expect.” I think I can definitely run two or three or so minutes faster than I did last year. With that being said, I am hungry to compete with the lead group. If someone decides they want to run a 66 minute first half, I’ll have to pump the brakes a bit, but I want to be able to compete and make moves and see what I can do in a big field.